The eyes of the sporting world will once again turn to a relatively obscure former Soviet republic.
Tajikistan, like fellow ex-Soviet nation Belarus, has decided to begin play in its top-flight soccer league, and with so few other countries playing, there is sure to be interest in the Central Asian nation.
The season kicked off this weekend with the Tajik Super Cup, where defending champions Istiklol beat Khujand 2-1. There will be three league games on Sunday and two more this coming Wednesday.
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Where is Tajikistan?
A mountainous country in Central Asia, with China to the East and Uzbekistan to the West, it’s south of Kyrgyzstan, and north of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Tajikistan is the poorest of the former Soviet republics, and has a population of 8.9 million. The capital, Dushanbe, has approximately 915,000 residents.
What’s the story with the league?
Known as the Tajikistan Higher League, it was founded in 1992 and has ten teams for the 2020 season. There were eight teams in 2019, but three have been promoted from the First League, with one team relegated.
Finished 1st last season. The most famous club in Tajikistan, Istiklol (which means ‘Independence’) won their 6th title in a row and eighth overall last season. The club was founded in 2009 by Rustam Emomali, eldest son of Tajikistan’s long-serving leader Emomali Rahmon. Rustam actually captained the team before becoming head of the nation’s football association and moving into politics, where he may one day succeed his father as the nation’s ruler.
CSKA Pamir (Dushanbe)
Finished 4th last season. CSKA, run under the patronage of the Tajik Army, are the only Tajik team to have played in the old Soviet Top League. They won the inaugural Higher League title in 1992.
Finished 2nd last season and in fact, were runners-up for the last three seasons. They were established in 1976 from the remnants of a club known as Pomir.
Finished 3rd last season. They dominated Tajik football in the early to mid 2000’s, winning seven titles and finishing 2nd five times. Originally called Metallurg, they were sponsored by TALCO, the largest aluminium plant in Central Asia and nearly went bankrupt in 2017.
Newly Promoted Teams
Won the First League last year to earn promotion. They had two previous seasons in the Higher League, finishing 11th in 1999 and 10th in 2000. Founded in 1961 as Lokomotiv Dushanbe, then disbanded in the 1990s, reformed in 2000, and eventually merged with Pamir in 2017 to become Lokomotiv-Pamir.
Newly promoted after finishing 2nd in the First League last season.
Promoted to the Higher League for the first time after finishing 3rd in the First League last season. Roster includes five players from Ghana.
The Other Teams
Finished 5th last season after a five-year absence due to financial problems. They play in Ishtaravshan-Arena (20,000) which had a $3 million upgrade in 2012.
Finished 7th last season and have won the league title three times. Founded in 1960 and formerly known as Vaksh, with a solid history that includes time in the Soviet Second League, the team had financial difficulties in 2018 and was taken over by the local government of Qurghonteppa and renamed Khatlon.
Promoted in 2018 (finished 3rd) and then came 6th last season. Play in the wonderfully named Oilfield Stadium.
Sherridin Boboev, Istiklol: 20 year old Tajik international who has won the Golden Boot for the past two seasons. Has scored 30 goals in 48 appearances for Istiklol and has one goal in 14 games with the national team.
Dilshod Vasiev, CSKA Pamir: And Istiklol legend who scored 80 goals in 104 appearances. He scored Istiklol’s first ever goal in the Higher League and spent 10 years with the team before moving to Khujand last season where he scored six goals in 20 appearances.
Manuchekhr Dzhaililov, Istiklol: Began his career with Lokomotiv Moscow before joining Istiklol in 2015, where he scored 59 goals in 47 appearances. Played in Indonesia for two years before making a return to Istiklol. Has 17 goals in 30 appearances for the Tajik national team.
Fatkhullo Fatkhuloev, Khujand: Most capped Tajikistan international who has signed with Khujand for 2020. Scored seven goals in 25 appearances for Istiklol sandwiched between seasons in Indonesia and Uzbekistan.